Inclusive and accessible design

“A building is just a shell until you put people in it”

Headshot of Vivian Wall, Junior Inclusive Design Consultant, Motionspot

Vivian explores the connection between identity and the built environment and works towards ensuring people’s unique stories and cultural backgrounds are represented in the spaces they occupy. She is an Inclusive Design Consultant at Motionspot with a degree in Architecture, and specialises in user engagement.

Vivian also lectures on the Interior Architecture course at the University of Brighton, teaching students how to embed inclusive design into their projects.

What drew you to inclusive design and user engagement?

I have always been fascinated by people and by their stories. Stories make up so much of who we are.

When I was a younger, I used to listen to TED Talks and YouTube videos of people having deep conversations about human connection conversations as I got ready for school. My favourite TED Talk is The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Chimanda shares her journey of growing up in Nigeria whilst reading British and American books. She used to write stories as a child, but they featured things like apples, playing in the snow, and fair-skinned, blue-eyed characters. Chimamanda explains that these were regular occurrences in her story, despite none of them being part of Nigerian culture.

This really struck a chord with me as I was brought up in Trinidad, but I read Enid Blyton. Immersing myself in stories about pixies, brownies and the sunshine of the English summer, but it wasn’t something I could relate to.

When I look back on my childhood and career, I can frame my life around stories. Throughout high-school, I spent much of my time debating and participating in youth parliament, sharing a younger perspective on legislation that affected my age group at the time. When I was 13, I also volunteered with the Growing Leaders Foundation where we visited the equivalent of a ‘rehabilitation centre for troubled boys’ aged 12-18. Here we spoke about their dreams, aspirations and talents. This experience showed me how misguided young people can become when they don’t have an outlet to channel their talents.

Later in University whilst pursuing architecture, I spent a long time learning about great European architects like Le Corbusier. However, the people we learnt about on our lecture slides did not reflect the people within our student body. I found academia to be elitist and exclusive and became deeply unsatisfied by what was being taught. I found there was no space to explore diverse perspectives.

I set out on a mission to change it. At first as a Course Representative, then by co-founding my own reading group within the School of Architecture and Design, and then by reforming the curriculum as part of the Inclusivity Practice Partnership Scheme, all whilst in the final year of my degree. The reading group is one of my greatest achievements as we established a space to bring stories back into the curriculum and began exploring architecture through dreams, art, videos, and the whole human experience.

Two years after completing my degree, I was invited back as a design tutor. This meant a lot to me, as I never had a black design tutor or lecturer throughout my architecture education, and I was about to be one. Ethnic diversity was simply not there during my studies. My advice to institutions where diversity and representation is not present within their core staff? Invite diverse speakers and lecturers. Bring people in so your student body can see themselves represented.

You now teach others about inclusive design. What is your approach?

I encourage others to tell their stories. At the University of Brighton, I am not just guiding on spatial design, but also supporting students to embed their stories into their work. Stories students have shared with me include: coming from the countryside where things are quieter and feeling the need for quiet spaces within the city. Or for an LGBTQIA+ student, thinking about things like needing a safe space for changing out of drag on the way home. I also encourage students to bring other creative interests into their projects. For example, for another student who is excellent at crocheting, supporting them to bring these techniques into spatial design.

Are stories an essential part of creating a more inclusive built environment?

A building is just a shell until you put people in it. When I’m teaching, I always say to students: ‘Your building is probably going to outlive you so it can’t just be about you.’

But, if you can’t celebrate difference and unique stories within yourself, then you won’t know how to celebrate it in others, and are likely to shut other perspectives down. We should all be proud to show individuality and honour this difference in each other.

The impact is about more than the built environment for me, but architecture and design are lenses through which I can help make these changes.

What is Motionspot’s approach to user engagement?

What I like about Motionspot’s approach is that alongside our technical knowledge, we’re good at making sure people feel represented, understood, and empowered in the spaces they use.

This applies to our strategic approach to engagement from providing inclusive pre-event communication, to the session formats we use. We use a range of roundtable discussions with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), interactive virtual workshops, or in-person immersive experiences to gather feedback from people with diverse perspectives. We adapt our style to suit each group best.

Stakeholder engagement is only successful if participants are comfortable sharing their experiences. At Motionspot, we build trust and create safe environments where people feel seen, heard, and respected to ensure that they are comfortable sharing.

Why is user engagement so important?

Stakeholder engagement provides a great opportunity to find insights that you will not find in regulation. Because you get direct feedback from people using the space daily, you get qualitative feedback on the small changes that make a big difference. For example, in one session recently we received feedback on sensor lighting - an energy efficient solution that is very common in new builds. However, this often raises concerns of safety for people who may be working on a less populated floor, and can be left in darkness when there is not enough movement for the sensors to detect. Insights like these have a major part to play in the shift from minimum access considerations to going above and beyond and creating truly inclusive spaces.

Motionspot’s inclusive engagement services

Motionspot's Inclusive Design Team is experienced in coordinating user groups representing lived experience through all RIBA stages to make the built environment more inclusive. Our work typically spans:

  • Forming, identifying, and then mobilising user groups.
  • Ensuring appropriate representation of people with a range of intersectional lived experiences of protected characteristics likely to be impacted by design decisions.
  • Facilitating and engaging user groups via in-person and virtual workshops throughout the project.
  • Collating, analysing, and summarising the feedback.
  • Translating feedback it into design recommendations.
  • Ensuring that communication and sessions are fully inclusive throughout.

To find out more about integrating user engagement into new-build and refurbishment projects, please get in touch with our team to discuss your requirements.


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